Health professionals' guide to research in MS

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A resource developed by TiMS (Therapists in MS)

Therapists in MS

This is a guide for Health Professionals planning to conduct research in MS, developed by TiMS (Therapists in MS).

Research Priorities in MS


A number of professional and medical bodies have identified current research priorities in MS.

NICE – National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

James Lind Alliance – the James Lind Alliance and the MS Society have identified the top 10 research questions that matter most to MS health professionals and people with MS.

Professional bodies

Starting out in research and getting support

Therapist helping patient

When starting out in research it’s really important to get help. Getting on to the right path, with the right research question with the right support, really does matter.

  1. Contacting your local university is a good place to start: it may be able to support you through formal education routes, such as MRes Clinical Research degrees, internships or PhDs.
  2. Within your organisation you may have a Research and Development department which could guide you.
  3. The Council for Allied Health Professions Research is there to support the research activity and your local hub may be able to guide you.
  4. The Research Design Service is funded by the National Institute for Health Research to provide design and methodological support to health and social care researchers.
  5. Good Clinical Practice is a set of internationally recognised ethical and scientific quality requirements that must be followed when designing, conducting, recording and reporting clinical trials that involve people: GCP training is a key requirement for anyone involved in the conduct of clinical research.
  6. Involving patients and the public (PPI) is vital in recognising the research priorities in your field of interest. Patients and the public may be involved in consultation and collaboration with your research, or they may be leading and controlling the research. Involve is an organisation funded by the National Institute for Health Research to support public involvement in NHS, public health and social care research.
  7. The Equator Network offers guidelines useful for a range of methodologies and for designing, writing and publishing health research.
  8. If you work for, or are on a placement with, the NHS you can join the Athens Library which gives you access to a wide range of electronic resources, e-journals,e-books and databases including Medline, CINAHL, PsycINFO and Embase.

Also your professional body provides a range of resources and services to support members in their research and development activity.

Research methods

Using laptop

Types of research

Qualitative Research originates from the social and behavioural sciences. It is used to explore and understand people’s beliefs, behaviour and attitudes. Qualitative methods include discussion/focus groups and interviews. Non-numeric data is collected such as descriptions of spasticity instead of numerical measures of spasticity. Thematic analysis of the data may be used.

Quantitative Research originates from the natural and social sciences. Numerical data is generated and quantitative methods include questionnaire surveys and controlled trials. The data is analysed with statistical formulae.

Mixed Methods Research is a way of using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. It may be employed where a qualitative study precedes to formulate questions to be asked in a quantitative survey questionnaire.

Case studies and clinical trials

Case Studies are in-depth detailed examinations of subjects (cases). They may be linked to any of the research methods above. It is likely that the data will have been collected over a sustained period.

Clinical Trials are experiments carried out in clinical research with a background in biomedical or behavioural sciences. The randomised controlled trial is employed in medical research linked to testing the efficacy of pharmacological agents before they are widely available to the general public.

More information can be found on the Research Methodology website and the Cochrane Library offers a free online interactive course on making sense of research and evidence.

Ethical approval

MS Trust conference poster gallery

Health research involving patients should be ethically reviewed and approved. Your local Research Design Service, or Research and Development department, should be able to help you understand if ethical approval is required.

Health Research Authority

A number of useful resources have been created by The Health Research Authority including a Do I Need Ethics Decision Tool. The details of the study you are planning will then be reviewed by the committee. For more information, read about the research review process.

Sharing research

MS Trust conference

Suggestions and tips on the most effective ways to publish, disseminate and register your research.

  1. The Health Research Authority describes the importance of transparency, registration and publication of research.
  2. Government policy is that the output of publicly funded research should be made available in the public domain: it is a good idea, therefore, to get used to sharing your research.
  3. Dissemination can be low key, and starting off with a poster at the MS Trust Conference is a good idea, with the MS Trust's guidance on how to share your work through a conference poster being very useful.
  4. Your research may be useful to others working in your field and the NIHR has a dedicated dissemination centre.
  5. Publishing can again be low key: eg. in Synapse by the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Neurology, or in a peer-reviewed journal.
  6. The journals that you identify as good platforms for sharing your research will have guidance on submitting research papers and your professional body may also have tips and guidance, such as for physiotherapy.

Open Door

Open Door was a free, quarterly newsletter for people with multiple sclerosis, their familes and friends, and supporters of the MS Trust. Each issue reported on the work of the MS Trust and gave a round-up of the most relevant MS news and research projects.

Critical analysis of research

Nurse with patient

Reviewing research articles

When reviewing research articles the following questions should be considered:

  1. Are the aims clearly stated and are they achieved?
  2. Does the background make reference to previous research done in the field and, therefore, make justification for this new piece of work to contribute to filling a gap in the literature?
  3. Is the methodology and analysis rigorous and valid?
  4. Are the findings ‘generalisable’ to other situations?
  5. Does the article flow: eg. does it cover introduction, background, results/findings, discussion, summary, recommendations?
  6. Are areas for further research identified?

Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP)

CASP approaches appraising research in three steps:

  1. Is the study valid?
  2. What are the results?
  3. Are the results useful?

Find out more: Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklists.

Funding research

Piggy bank with pounds

Funding streams vary depending on the size of the project you are looking to undertake.

The Research Design Service describes some of the opportunities:

  • small grants may be identified through your trust, organisation or university and charities may also have funds that you can apply for
  • your local Research Design Service may offer small grants to support patient and public involvement in the design and implementation of your study
  • grants may also be available to support you along a clinical academic pathway, which may support the development of your skills as a researcher: these may be through your local university or as part of a National Institute of Health Research programme
  • larger grants may be available through the National Institute for Health Research.

Professional bodies and charities

Some professional bodies and charities also offer grants of varying sizes:

Current clinical research trials

Nurse with patient

Find out about current clinical research trials:

  • is a registry and results database of publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants conducted around the world
  • the Clinical Research Network Portfolio is a database of clinical research studies taking place in the NHS that are funded by the life sciences industry and other funders including charities, central and overseas governments, investigator-initiated commercial collaborative research, as well as by NIHR research programmes
  • the latest research by the MS Society
  • the ISRCTN, a primary clinical trial registry recognised by WHO and ICMJE.
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